If you stop to think about who was the greatest striker of the modern era, some of you would no doubt leap up and state Didier Drogba, or Fernando Torres, maybe even Wayne Rooney. Others may suggest Ronaldo or Romario of Brazil? Ian Rush? Gary Lineker? Jurgen Klinsmann? The list of possible superstars to claim the crown is almost endless and I’ll save you the bother.
The best striker of the modern era was and is Marco Van Basten and by quite some considerable distance.
Born in Utrecht on hallowe’en in 1964, the only thing scary about Van Basten was his ability with a football. His hometown club Utrecht signed him up but he never played a professional game for them, instead Ajax snapped him up in 1981 as a sixteen year old and he made his debut in 1982, scoring in a 5-0 victory over NEC Nijmengen. For the next eleven years, Marco Van Basten would catapult himself to international superstar status. His statistics while at Ajax are worth reading because they are truly incredible. He scored 128 league goals in just 133 league games. That is an incredible strike rate. Still it would not be until 1987 that Marco Van Basten really began to attract some attention, when football fans across the world first saw this goal, arguably the finest overhead kick that has ever been scored. I can remember Bob Wilson introducing the goal at the end of football focus by simply stating in the preamble to the goal “The goal came in a match between Ajax and Den Bosch and all you need to know first time around…Is that it is a bit special.”
What makes Van Basten truly special is that goals like that were not a one off. In 1988 he finally began to get the acclaim he deserved when he played a pivotal role in leading Holland to the 1988 European Championship final, including scoring an incredible hattrick against England in the group stages.
However that would not be Van Basten’s sole contribution. In the final, Holland faced USSR and a Ruud Gullit header had put the Dutch in front against a team who had previously beaten them in the tournament. In the second half Russia pressed for an equaliser but a poor pass out of defence saw the Dutch break quickly. Van Tiggelen fed Arnold Muhren who hoisted a ball hopefully to the far post for Van Basten. What he did then simply defied belief, as you can see by the reactions of his manager and his teammates, including No 7 Gerald Vanenberg who seems so stunned by what he has witnessed, he seems unable to comprehend it.
To further enhance his position as the greatest striker of the modern era, Van Basten moved to Milan and was an integral part of Arrigo Sacchi’s fantastic Milan side of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Even in Serie A, where the top strikers would be lucky to average a goal every three or four games, Van Basten scored 90 goals in just 147 appearances. A stunning return. He led Milan to several Scudetto successes, two European Cup wins and was named European footballer of the year on three occasions, joining Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini as the only other players ever to achieve this incredible feat.
What makes this career all the more remarkable, is that for a large part of it, Van Basten was jinxed by injury. In many games he was not fully fit and would often play through the pain barrier for his team. The chronic problems in his ankle eventually proved too much and in 1993 his ankle injury recurred in a game with Ancona. At this point Van Basten was at the peak of his powers, expected to shine for Holland in the 1994 World Cup and lead Milan onto Serie A dominance again. However after two years toil to try and regain fitness, Van Basten was forced to retire in 1995. Aged just 31 and having missed almost two full years of football before being forced to retire.
It was one of the saddest days in football for a player still revered in Milan, Holland and indeed across the world. A consummate striker with impeccable technique, wonderful physical skills and that special ability to do something utterly special and make it look effortless. Truly a legend and truly the greatest striker of the modern era bar none.
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